|Photo Credit: Brickdon via Compfight cc|
In Michael Wesch's video, An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube he explores the participatory nature of social media, particularly with Youtube, and emphasizes the benefits of "connection without restraint" and the opportunity the platform offers for "tremendously deep communities". I like the idea of connection without restraint. But as an educator, and the dangers that are often presented with Social Media, can this lack of restraint be dangerous to those who maybe lack self control or the wisdom to behave appropriately face to face, never mind behind the seemingly anonymous perspective behind a computer screen?
Years ago when Charlie Bit Me was popularized (not just popularized, it eventually became the most viewed video in Youtube history), I joined the masses in replaying that video for friends, family, and students (shhhhh... I admit it... I used some classtime to watch a cute video... and I know I would do it again someday!) over and over again - giggling over those delightful and charming British brothers! Although I found the original video adorable, I found the remixes - fascinating... and sometimes annoying or downright ridiculous, as in the remix, Charlie Bit My Finger... Off! (okay, I kind of liked it). What was interesting is how fascinated my students were of the remixes. Was it the connection they made to often other teens who were remixing and sharing the videos? Were they inspired by the creativity of the remix? The daring to take a risk and offer that point of connection? What was it? Other than the fact that the videos were sometimes funny, why would a person watch video after video? Is the fascination due to the sense of community created, or as Wesch points out, that we all collectively become fascinated by the same thing? Maybe it's the fact that the average person can be part of the entertainment - not celebrities, not politicians - but average people with a digital device wanting to engage us in the conversation and this is that authentic connection that draws us in.
So I get why people love it. Maybe it's for the mindless entertainment and connection we feel or maybe it's a bit like being a distant observer of other people's lives. Sort of like what was explored in the movie the Truman Show, which was only made in 1998, yet really personifies a little of what it's like watching Youtube in our world now. I'm not knocking it and saying it's all trivial and boring, as I do have my favorite Youtube channels (like Kid-Snippets), but there are some elements that get a little Truman-like or just invasive. Perhaps this preference for a polished show, like Kid-Snippets, is part of the era I grew up in. Is it a generational or Visitors vs Residents thing?
The question becomes what is entertaining to different groups? When we look what appeals to different interest groups, I can't help think of a time when my students were begging me to watch "Squirrel Boy in a Tree". Not trusting a group of grade 8 boys and their recommendations for a Youtube video in front of the class, I of course said no. Later, I checked it out to see what the fuss was. Basically the video was about a kid yelling in a tree, swearing about a World of Warcraft video while his brother verbally tormented him and recorded the mental abuse. Nice. It's aptly named, Greatest Freakout Ever. Interestingly enough, it has 13,143,428 views (unfortunately I have contributed 2 of the views of this pointless video). Let's just chalk this video up to being a prime example as to reasons why Youtube can be a bit of a waste of time and unfortunately become a platform for bullying. The interactions in the video, are certainly the polar opposite to the fun-loving relationship between Charlie and his older brother. Squirrel-boy probably never stood a chance to his older brother, and the best part is, the world can watch his embarrassment over and over again. Not everything needs or should be shared, and makes me wish that there was more of a behaviour police for family bullying even between brothers.
The part that really gets me though, is that I had students who enjoyed that video (as did millions of others) and thought it was hilarious. So now not only do we have to contend with movies and television shows which push-the-envelop in terms of appropriateness and what we call entertainment, we now have Youtube to do the same. It's not that I'm against Youtube, but in a lot of ways, Social Media can sometimes feel like the Wild West. Where almost anything goes, as long as it doesn't break the law. Where are the sheriffs? Yes, there are police who police the Internet for the really dangerous stuff out there. But what about mean older brothers, who polices them? There are parents (and...where are these kids' parents?), but it's doubtful that many are on Youtube. So going back to Wesch's statement regarding, "connection without restraint" and "tremendously deep communities" - it's evident that there is definitely lack of restraint demonstrated in this case, and the community is most likely not exploring any deep connections.
Well all this negative talk is diminishing the lustre of Charlie and his brother... That was a great video. I enjoyed being part of the community who also enjoyed those sweet little boys. Maybe it's not all bad. If you ever wondered where are they now, check out the clip below. It's nice to see that Charlie and his brother still seem like a couple of sweet kids, who get along great except for a little chomp here and there.